What’s cooking at Chowpatty?
There’s a nip in the air and the humidity seems to finally be in better humour. This is the time of the year that I start craving Gujarati undhiyo. And, usually, unless my mum or I decide to make some at home, the one at Soam suits me to a T. This little restaurant opposite the Babulnath temple has long been a favourite of mine. Dressed in a cheery yellow, with serving dishes and spoons in copper and brass laid over placemats made of dry leaves stitched together, it’s high on feel-good factor and offers super value for money. No wonder it’s ALWAYS packed to the rafters! Soam specialises in food that spans the central areas of India’s Western coast, right from Rajasthani specials, through various regions of Gujarat to some parts of Maharashtra.
Soam upholds tradition and yet brings in innovation. As the restaurant’s passionate owner Pinky Chandan-Dixit puts it, “Our food is like a deconstructed thaali meal. This way, guests don’t get overwhelmed with too many items or land up wasting food. Instead, they can pick and choose exactly what they want to eat.” Works for me, for sure!
Speaking of picking and choosing, I love their spinach and cheese samosas, their fantastic fada ni khichdi (made with broken wheat) and the robust Gujarati puran-poli (much better than the skinnier Maharashtrian one I’ve grown up eating!), delicate and crisp jalebis, melt-in-your-mouth malai-malpua and probably what is the cleanest ice gola you can have in Mumbai… right down to all-natural flavours for the syrup.
And every season, there’s something exciting to draw me there yet again and new dishes to discover on every visit. A while ago, I binged on their tasty healthy menu. Earlier this year, I discovered their luscious mango bhajiyas. It’s clearly a love affair that will last a lifetime as they keep reinventing even as their core values stay the same. And be it my in-laws or European and American tourists whom I love showing my city to, it’s always a doubly satisfying treat to see how their eyes widen with pleasure when they taste Soam food for the first time!
That’s quite how I felt again when I was invited to come and try their limited edition Kathiawadi menu. Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, talented chef, food consultant and author, who runs the A Perfect Bite Cook Studio, is a friend of Pinky’s. They met soon after the restaurant first opened and Rushina has been helping Pinky fine-tune the line-up and conceptualise seasonal options ever since. For this Kathiawadi special too, the two food experts did a lot of research, including recces of several popular eateries on the highway. Then they came back and put their heads together to figure out what Pappu, Soam’s capable Maharaj, would be able to execute best and what would work well with the clientele, largely made up of regulars like me.
The result of their painstaking research is evident when I see what’s on offer. It’s something a Kathiawadi housewife would be proud of. And then, as I go through the tasting I think how, to get such home-cooked flavours in a commercial establishment, is such a challenge. One that Soam succeeds in, where many a five-star hotel restaurant has failed.
I start my meal on a sweet note, with a sip of the Badam Sherbet, quite liberally laced with saffron. The platter of Dakor na Gota is proffered next and I sink my teeth into these crisp tiny balls made of lentils. While not quite eye-popping, they can be quite addictive the same way that popcorn is, especially with the zingy garlic chutney that’s being passed around.
I find the Fafda Kachori quite exciting in comparison… a medley of flavours and a definite must on your list. Some healthier but equally tasty appetisers are the Lasaniya Chana Batata (a wonderfully garlicky black channa tossed with tender potatoes) and the toothsome Bajra Rotla, a flat bread made with black millet.
There’s a lot of variety among the mains. Sev Tameta, that Kathiawadi classic that we’re all familiar with, makes its presence felt with the rich red of the fresh tomato gravy and the tangy taste. In stark contrast is the creamy looking Vaal and Kand dish, slightly sweet, a labour of love created from butter beans and purple yam with time, patience and a restrained hand with the spices. Along with these, the one I like best of all that I try, is the Kanda Gathia Nu Shak. It’s a very simple dish where spring onion greens take pride of place along with the crunchy spicy gathia made of fried chick pea flour, enlivened with garlic and a twist of lime. Apart from the Rotlas, there are also Chopdas, which resemble lachha parathas, to go with the vegetables. I also enjoy the slightly clunky texture of the red rice served with a unique kadhi that contains okra.
For dessert, the Motichur Ke Golgappe win hands down. After all, you can’t go wrong with crisp-as-starch saffron-scented puris, filled with cold rabri and a warm bundi laddoo… just right for popping straight into your mouth so you can experience the different sweet sensations all at once!
Kathiawadi cuisine is robust, with a strong identity that’s distinguishable from it’s neighbouring Rajasthani, Sindhi, Kutchhi and Gujarati styles despite having a few similarities with each of these. The use of pre-made, easily stockable ingredients such as sev and gathia comes from the fact that it is an unforgiving terrain where it’s hard to grow fresh vegetables throughout the year. And yet, it’s nuanced and often delicately spiced, which comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s hardy cuisine with a soft heart, just like the people of Kathiawad!
The Kathiawadi menu will be available only until the end of November so head there this week!
Address: Soam, Ground Floor, Sadguru Sadan, Opposite Babulnath Temple, Chowpatty, Mumbai; Tel: 022 23698080
Pricing: Starts from about Rs 400 per head.